The Movie Waffler IFI French Film Festival 2018 Review - KNIFE + HEART | The Movie Waffler

IFI French Film Festival 2018 Review - KNIFE + HEART

knife + heart review
A masked psycho is killing the cast and crew of a Parisian porn producer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Yann Gonzalez

Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury, Jonathan Genet, Khaled Alouach

knife + heart poster

The Giallo genre - stylistic, sex and violence heavy Italian thrillers that had their peak in the 1970s - has proved heavily influential on a variety of recent movies. Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio saw its protagonist working in Italy on the post-production of a giallo; Luca Giadagnino has reimagined Dario Argento's Suspiria; social satire Assassination Nation is filled with references to Argento's work; Nicolas Pesce's Piercing features a soundtrack filled with needle drops from Italian exploitation scores; and the French directing duo of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have based their entire career on aping the visual and aural style of the genre.

The latest director to channel Giallo is France's Yann Gonzalez (You and the Night), whose 1979 set thriller Knife + Heart is jam packed with nods to the European shockers of that era. 'Giallo' is the Italian word for 'Yellow' (a reference to the colour of the paperback spines of an Italian publisher's collection of mystery novels), but as Gonzalez's film takes place in a queer milieu, perhaps 'Rosa' is a more fitting label.

knife + heart review

Sporting a Debbie Harry peroxide 'do, Vanessa Paradis plays Anne Pareze, a director of gay porn movies who has hit the bottle in the wake of her breakup with her editor/lover Lois (Kate Moran). When one of her actors is murdered, Anne finds the police unwilling to expound much energy searching for the killer, and it's not long before a second actor is killed and a pattern begins to form.

To the displeasure of her cast and crew, Anne channels the murders and her interactions with the police into her work, beginning production on 'Homocidal', which she believes might be her masterpiece. This sees Gonzalez blur the lines between his movie's reality and Anne's film within the film, clips from the latter cleverly employed as a way of doling out exposition in a novel and entertaining manner.

With his black PVC mask and curly crop, the killer resembles a cross between Leatherface and Dirty Harry's Scorpio. It's a genuinely unsettling look, and his weapon of choice - a giant black dildo from which a razor sharp blade emerges - truly is the stuff of nightmares.

knife + heart review

Where several recent movies have channelled the look of '70s exploitation cinema, few have captured their scuzziness in quite the same way as Knife + Heart. It's a sleazy, sadistic movie that genuinely feels like the product of a less sensitive time, and I can't help think of the headlines it would generate if it were made by someone like Paul Verhoeven or Lars von Trier. However, more so than the Gialli of the '70s, it resembles a seedier version of the American movies that riffed on European sleaze in the early '80s - Brian de Palma's Body Double; Richard Tuggle/Clint Eastwood's Tightrope; William Friedkin's Cruising.

The other element of Giallo it captures more organically than its contemporaries is the genre's unique oddness. Giallo is a genre where anything can happen at any time, and several of the plot twists found in its roster of films make for some of cinema's greatest "WTF?" moments. Knife + Heart starts off conventionally enough, but as Anne's investigation progresses, Gonzalez begins dishing out the craziness. In what seems a nod to Argento's Opera, the killer is accompanied by a blind, Raven-like bird, and several characters appear to have defects in their eyes. Looking into the background of a feather found at a crime scene, Anne has a bizarre encounter with an aging bird expert and her son, who it's revealed suffers from a "rare condition" that sees his body gradually taking on the form of a bird himself, ala René Auberjonois in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud. A night time scene in a graveyard wouldn't be out of place in a Jean Rollin vampire movie.

Mixed in with all the sleaze and slashings is a healthy dollop of humour, as Gonzalez is clued in to how hilarious the sort of films he's evoking can often be. Anne's film within a film is the funniest porn parody since 'See You Next Wednesday' from John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, and a character known as "The Mouth" (don't ask me to explain why) generates many of the big laughs.

knife + heart review

Giallo is also known for its technical virtuosity, something Gonzalez and his collaborators match here. There's a killing in a forest which sees Gonzalez continually spin his camera 360 degrees as the killer approaches an unwitting victim from behind, so that each time the camera comes back around, the psycho has gotten closer to his prey. It's a very simple way of generating unbearable suspense, but it's not something I can recall seeing before, which in 2018, is a rarity. M83's pounding synth score summons the spirit of the era's Hi-NRG dance music, while Simon Beaufils' cinematography captures the primary coloured aesthetic of Giallo while also keeping the visuals grounded in a naturalistic palette. Put simply, it's a feast for the eyes and ears.

Gonzalez is so committed to evoking a lost age of operatic, melodramatic European genre cinema here that it will likely turn off many modern viewers unaccustomed to the acquired taste of Giallo, but fans of the unique cinematic delights of that movement will find much to adore in Knife + Heart.

Knife + Heart is in UK cinemas July 5th.

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